BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - The Lunar New Year Celebration and Festival at the Berkeley Heights YMCA on Saturday gave the community an opportunity to experience the excitement and cultural traditions celebrated by the Chinese, Koreans and many places in Asia. 

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, is celebrated by many places in Asia and is one of their biggest holidays. It commemorates the beginning of a New Year and of Spring and is based around the moon’s cycle, as opposed to calendar date as is done with the conventional New Year.  Each year the Chinese calendar assigns an animal from a rotating zodiac of 12 animals. In Chinese astrology, each animal sign is also associated with one of the five elements: Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, or Earth. 2018 is the year of the Earth Dog, a combination that has not occurred since 1958. The year starts on February 16, 2018. 

The Y was abuzz with activities and the guests were welcomed at the front doors with a photo op with a decorative Lunar New Year backdrop planked by red lanterns and a customary dragonhead and props. As the families proceeded to the gymnasium, they could detour for a bite to eat from area restaurants including Proud Thai and Kawee Thai and take a chance to win prizes at the Spin Wheel and Plinko games. 

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With the gymnasium filled to capacity, event organizers Angus Chen and Natalie Chin, along with Karen Foote from the Berkeley Heights Diversity Council and Tiffany Escott, Director of the Berkeley Heights YMCA, welcomed the crowd. 

Performers from the Wushu - Kung Fu Fitness Center kicked off the entertainment segment of the event and brought the room alive with the sound of the drums and the emergence of the Lion Dancers. Having a lion grace your premises is said to bring you luck for the rest of the year. The dance is to scare evil spirits away and bring the audience good luck.

The full schedule of entertainment showcased children from Spring Academy Montessori School, Master Kim's Talium Taekwondo in Berkeley Heights, Shaolin Kung Fu & Tai Chi School and lastly, a Korean Folk Drum Dance by Vong Pak.

The performances concluded with a Dragon Parade with the children lining up under the tail with fun noise making drums.  

In addition to the full slate of entertainment, guests could also roam the Y to explore and participate in the different activities that included storytime, arts and crafts, Chinese Calligraphy, Chinese zodiac face painting, as well as a display of Asian fashion. People could also get their photo taken in custom Asian fashion through the use of a special app designed by resident Ben Bartholomew. And everyone could take a selfie at the New Year Photobooth with the Lunar New Year Dragon and photo props.

"Given this was our first time participating in the planning of such a big event for the Berkeley Heights Diversity Council, it was a privilege to work with all of the committee members. Along with Berkeley Heights residents Ann Bartholomew, Ben Bartholomew, Linda Meehan, Xuan Liu, and Summit Area YMCA Creative Services and Marketing Manager Jenny Hui, we were able to show how different countries celebrate Lunar New Year through performances, food, snacks, culture, fashion, storytelling, and arts and crafts. Thank you to the many local businesses that participated and we hope that everyone enjoyed the festival. We also hope this will encourage others to plan similar events to highlight the wonderful people in our town," said Angus Chen and Natalie Chin in a joint statement. 

Photo credits: Bobbie Peer, Natalie Chin, Jenny Hui.